Roughly midway between Trichy and Madurai, on a plain studded with granite boulder hills and groves of palmyra palms, lies the Chettinad region. This rural backwater is famous above all for its eccentric 19th and 20th-century mansions, which were built by members of the Nattukottai Chettiyar caste, a prosperous banking and mercantile community who made their fortunes on the back of British rule in Sri Lanka, Burma and other colonies in Southeast Asia.
The grand houses they built in their homeland reflected the Chettiyars’ cosmopolitan lives. Think ‘English stately home’, with a dash of Loire château, crazy polychrome colour schemes, and riot of ornate Mughal domes and Rajasthani cupolas. Several landmark Chettiyar properties have been turned into luxurious heritage hotels where, in addition to an intimate experience of the region’s quirky architecture, guests may sample the region’s famously spicy, peppery cuisine. Cycle rides to craft workshops and village temples fill the days between sessions by the poolside or spa – we recommend at least a couple of nights to experience this unique region to the full.